Achenbach: Golf could exist with two sets of rules

Bob Duden showed Sam Snead (pictured) how to putt between his legs, and Snead used the method in competition until it was outlawed in 1968.

Bob Duden showed Sam Snead (pictured) how to putt between his legs, and Snead used the method in competition until it was outlawed in 1968.

LA QUINTA, Calif. -- What if?

Golf’s two rules-making bodies, the U.S. Golf Association and R&A, are considering outlawing anchoring, effectively eliminating belly-putting and long-putting.

What if one state or regional golf association made a formal announcement that it would allow anchoring despite a ban by golf’s two international ruling bodies?

What if bifurcation of the rules became a reality -- at least in the little domain of one association -- with one set of rules for professionals and elite amateurs and another set of rules for everybody else.

Golfers are talking nonstop about anchoring. One of the most vocal is Chris Maletis, a lifetime resident of Portland, Ore., and winner of dozens of meaningful amateur titles in the Pacific Northwest and throughout the United States. While practicing at The Palms Golf Club in La Quinta, Maletis poised a simple question: What if?

All hell would break loose, that’s what.

“It doesn’t make sense to me to deprive so many golfers of their putters,” said Maletis, who uses a long putter.

An association theoretically could choose to follow all the rules of golf except one. Putting as we know it would be preserved rather than abolished, and this policy would be invoked in tournament play and in posting everyday scores. Belly putters, long putters and sidesaddle putters could be used with impunity.

Somewhere Bob Duden must be applauding.

Oregon has been through this once before. In the 1960s, Duden, who lived in Portland and played on the PGA Tour, became the foremost disciple for croquet putting.

Duden showed Sam Snead how to putt between his legs, and Snead used the method in competition until it was outlawed in 1968. When the ruling came down, Duden’s fledgling putter business was ruined. Duden died in 1995. Today his most popular croquet putter, named the Dude, is something of a collector’s item.

Snead switched to sidesaddle putting, but Duden was finished. He never again putted with confidence or success.

If one state or regional association decided to defy the USGA and R&A, it would be viewed as anarchy. But life would go on, and putting would become even more of a curiosity. The game of golf undoubtedly would survive, and observers would have something new to talk about.

Let’s be honest: Golf could exist just fine with two sets of rules, one for touring pros and high-caliber amateurs, and another for the rest of us. Anchoring could be banned on the PGA Tour and other professional tours while remaining in play for normal amateurs.

Invoking the infamous B word, this would indeed be bifurcation. Both the USGA and R&A have said in the past that bifurcation is not an acceptable alternative under any circumstances.

Why do the rules-makers have their heads in the sand? Because they have refused to change with the times.

Bifurcation already exists, and they simply won’t admit it.

Touring pros play longer courses with firmer fairways and faster greens. Tees and bunkers are perfect. These pros adhere to the one-ball rule. Amateurs generally do not play under these conditions. Touring pros use equipment that is hand-selected and hand-checked. It is individually customized and modified. Pros have golf balls delivered each week to their lockers. Most amateurs do not have access to this equipment.

This is bifurcation. It reflects different conditions and different parameters for pros and amateurs.

In the face of denial by the USGA and R&A, I find myself hoping that one golf association somewhere has the determination to stand up for all its members who want to continue using belly putters and long putters.

Anchoring has been good for golf, not harmful. Anchoring has made the game more fun for more people. It has been front and center on the PGA Tour for more than 20 years, so banishment appears to be a step backward.

It leaves me to wonder: What if?

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